During August of 2016 in a blog post entitled “Neighbor,” we revisited Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37, in order to explore a deeper message from the Master which sometimes gets overlooked.
Almost always our focus is on the people who passed by the “man who fell among thieves” and on the one who stopped, instead of on the framing questions by which Jesus signals the living spirit of the story.
We noted that Jesus does not answer the lawyers question, “Who is my neighbor?” Instead he turns it around and asks the lawyer, “Who was neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?”
Jesus defines “neighbor” as a verb, not a noun. We aren’t allowed to choose whom to neighbor. Whoever is next to us at the moment, that is the one.
Friend Ellie Beach of Hiram, Ohio, makes a similar observation in her Friends Journal Viewpoint piece, “Who is my neighbor?” (January 2017, p.5). She then transforms this reading to shine the Light on herself and the rest of us modern Friends:
To the Torah lawyer, a Samaritan was the Other, someone claiming to worship the same God of Israel but whose ancestry, beliefs, practices, and sanctuary over the border all qualified him to be a hated heretic and enemy. For Jesus to hold him up as one who shows love of God through merciful behavior was shocking, unthinkable.
This parable may be less about helping victims and more about opening the Torah lawyer’s self-protective legalistic boundaries to include respect for people not like him, whom he does not like. He is not asked to approve of the Samaritan’s culture or religious practices but to acknowledge and endorse, even imitate, his generous actions.
Jesus never directly answers the question “Who is my neighbor?” I can easily see how someone who insultingly disrespects women, immigrants, Muslims, the disabled, and anyone who disagrees with him should be chastened by the story, as the lawyer was.
Perhaps I should ask myself as well: Who is outside my borders of respect? Apparently, the 2016 U.S. election tapped into the pain of people I don’t know—non-college-educated white men; people whose livelihoods in manufacturing, agriculture, natural resources, and carbon energy are diminished by globalization and concerns for climate…. Have I been as good a neighbor to them as I have to Muslims, LGBTQ folks, Hispanic and African Americans?
Can I reject unacceptable actions and still find ways to touch those neighbors in pain?
May we all attend to this message.